Random Game Callback, August 26, 1998 - Penultimate edition
by Bob Timmermann
In a game that was scoreless for seven innings, the visiting Florida Marlins staged a miraculous comeback with six runs in the ninth inning, and defeated the St. Louis Cardinals, 7-6, in 10 innings before a crowd of 30,004 at Busch Stadium.
The defending World Series champions, managed by Jim Leyland, had been stripped of nearly all of its star players from the previous season as owner Wayne Huizenga opted to cut the team's payroll in anticipation of selling the team. Lefty Kirt Ojala started for the Marlins. The Cardinals, managed by Tony LaRussa, started another lefty, Darren Oliver, who had been acquired from Texas on August 9 with Fernando Tatis in exchange for Todd Stottlemyre and Royce Clayton.
Neither team had much chance of making the playoffs. The big story for the Cardinals was first baseman Mark McGwire's attempt to break Roger Maris's home run record. He came into the game with 53. In some bizarre way to get McGwire more at bats, or perhaps just some idea La Russa had that he thought would make him look really smart, La Russa put Oliver in the #8 slot in the lineup and batted catcher Eli Marrero in the #9 spot. McGwire batted third.
Ojala and Oliver each put up goose eggs in the first six innings. Ojala retired McGwire all three times he came up.
In the seventh, Florida loaded the bases but couldn't score. With one out, left fielder Cliff Floyd picked up an infield single and third baseman Kevin Orie had another. But Floyd was caught stealing third for the second out. Catcher Randy Knorr walked and second baseman Luis Castillo walked as well to load the bases. Leyland opted to let Ojala hit and he grounded into a force play.
St. Louis finally broke through in the bottom of the seventh. Left fielder Ron Gant led off with a double. Right fielder John Mabry attempted a sacrifice. Ojala pounced on the bunt and tried to throw out Gant at third, but made a bad throw and Gant scored and Mabry went to second. Justin Speier eventually came in to get the Marlins out of further trouble.
In the eighth, third baseman Tatis led off with a triple and then McGwire thrilled the crowd with a shot to left field that was measured at 509 feet. Speier's next pitch to center fielder Brian Jordan brushed him back and umpire Harry Wendlestedt warned both benches. Leyland came out to argue and was ejected. Jordan singled and Gant doubled him home. Mabry homered and it was 6-0 Cardinals. Donn Pall came in to get out of the inning.
John Frascatore, who had pitched a perfect eighth, was left in to try to pick up the save for Oliver. First baseman Derrek Lee led off with a home run. Then Floyd homered. Then Orie homered. La Russa interpreted this as a sign to get a new pitcher and Lance Painter came in from the pen. Knorr grounded out, but Castillo drew a walk. Pinch hitter Dave Berg singled to move Castillo to second.
Exit Painter and enter the Cardinal's nominal closer, Jeff Brantley. Brantley had saved 44 games for the Reds in 1996, but was slowed by injuries in 1997. The Cardinals took a chance on him in 1998. But Brantley was still hurt or ineffective most of the time. The first batter Brantley faced was pinch hitter Mark Kotsay, batting for John Cangelosi. Kotsay sent a Brantley pitch into the seats for a game-tying home run that left the crowd in St. Louis stunned.
The Cardinals couldn't score in the bottom of the ninth and the game went into extra innings. In the top of the tenth, Floyd had an infield hit and went to second when shortstop Luis Ordaz misplayed Orie's grounder. Knorr doubled in Floyd with what ended up as the winning run against reliever Juan Acevedo. Antonio Alfonseca pitched two innings for the win.
McGwire would end up breaking Maris's record and would hit 70 home runs. Sammy Sosa of the Cubs would hit 66 and win the MVP award. Four days before this game, a reporter looking into McGwire's locker noticed a bottle of androstendione. And the whole home run record chase had a much different resonance than people expected, although in the short term, the fans loved it. In retrospect, 1998 looks much different.
St. Louis finished third at 83-79, 19 games behind Houston. The Marlins were 54-108, the worst record in franchise history, 52 games in back of the Atlanta Braves. Castillo was the last player from the 1998 Marlins to stick with the team. Castillo was traded to the Twins after the 2005 season. Matt Morris was the last Cardinals from the 1998 team to leave. Morris signed as a free agent with San Francisco prior to the 2006 season.
Sources: Palm Beach Post, Retrosheet, Baseball-reference.com